The limits of motherly love are tested in this taut thriller that struggles to leave a lasting impact.
Kate (Lora Burke) and her daughter Beth live alone in an isolated farmhouse in the woods, but when Kate slowly begins to suspect that something sinister is happening, her motherly instincts are put to the test.
With shooting unfinished in March 2020 due to Canadian lockdown measures to combat Covid-19, despite the best collaborative efforts of the cast and crew, Motherly has, like many productions recently, endured a long, drawn-out struggle from production to having the film in front of audiences. In the case of Motherly, the restrictions and hasty initial shooting process bonded cast and crew in a way that feels visible in the final product. There is a sense of cohesion here, with all performances on the same page and a steady hand in creating moments of threat.
In some ways, it is this measured, even flow that highlights some of the film’s flaws, with the film layering on elements that are treated as revelatory, but are readable from the earliest moments. That ability to read the plot does make it very difficult to wring a great deal of tension out of proceedings, relying increasingly on poor decision making and character trait switching to drive the narrative. The action feels restrained, with a desire to ratchet things up that it never quite takes to that upper level.
The film has a great grasp on its location, repeatedly returning to sweep the house as events are revisited and reconceptualised. Early on, when Beth (Tessa Kozma) nonchalantly comments that the house is haunted, it is an early indicator of the underlying tensions the film wishes to explore. Within the house, simple household spills and everyday activities take on a sinister edge with the remoteness of the house sealing them off from the wider world. At a lean 80 minutes, the film has exactly the right amount of story for its runtime and while some developments feel predictable, this at least means there are threads to be pulled early on, rather than using the move of films desperate to invoke a twist by suddenly conjuring unseen elements in the closing minutes.
The strength lies in the time given over to the characters, allowing the performers to flesh them out and really situate themselves within the pain of all the characters. Lora Burke (Lifechanger, For The Sake Of Vicious) is in typically great form but the shining moments of the performance are those sections in which the film threatens to come off the rails a little more and turns the volume up. Burke and Kozma make for an excellent paring, with their mother and daughter duo at odds from the outset, constantly butting heads and locked in a cycle of miscommunication that leaves both alienated. Kozma is excellent as Beth, bringing a spiky quality to her interactions with Burke. As the film progresses and she is given more to do, she ably manages to sustain that early promise.
As a take on the home invasion thriller with a focus on relationships, Motherly will undoubtedly tick some boxes. Those yearning for something with a little more energy may be left wanting but it is, nonetheless, a diverting and reasonably entertaining watch with some great performances.
3 out of 5 stars
Motherly is available in the USA On Demand and Digital November 16, 2021 through The Horror Collective.